BRUNSWICK — After selling his popular China Rose restaurants a year ago and running Little Tokyo for three years, restaurateur Cuong Ly has returned to his Vietnamese roots.
Ly opened Little Saigon, the town’s second Vietnamese restaurant, on March 18 at 44 Maine St., where Clementine Restaurant operated until it closed last October.
“We always (had) a plan to open (a restaurant like this),” Ly said. Now, he said, the timing and location was just right.
Besides giving him an opportunity to share his native cuisine, Ly said his new restaurants fits within a larger trend that sees more people gravitating towards Vietnamese food and other, healthy ethnic cuisine.
Some of the menu items are gluten-free or vegetarian, Ly said – two kinds of food that appeal to a wide customer base. He said the only food that goes on the menu is the kind he likes to eat.
Ly’s family is of Chinese descent, he said, but he grew up in Vietnam for the first 16 years of his life until his family was forced to move to China because of the China-Vietnam Border War in 1979.
Not too long after that, Ly moved to America and then worked his way up the restaurant chain until he started China Rose in Freeport, Brunswick and Richmond.
In 2006, Ly was the subject of attention when armed state game wardens seized 10 exotic koi on display in fish tanks at the China Rose in Freeport. The koi were eventually returned after Ly sued the state and spent $20,000 on litigation. The story grabbed national attention and appeared in The New York Times.
Ly sold the small restaurant chain in 2011.
Now, with Little Tokyo just a short walk away at 72 Maine St., Ly said the customer response to his latest endeavor has been good.
“When you put your heart and your hard work and skill into it, (and) you care about what you do and love what you do,” Ly said, “the customers are going to feel the result is good.”
Restaurateur Cuong Ly said Little Saigon, which opened on Maine Street in Brunswick in March, honors his Vietnamese culinary roots while embracing a trend toward healthier vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.